Choctaw language, culture thrives in Tennessee sovereign land

Lacie Bell looks through a photo album with her granddaughter, Emani, 4, on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, at the Choctaw reservation in Henning, Tennessee.

HENNING, Tennessee —  Like his Choctaw ancestors before him, Cubert Bell couldn’t be convinced to cut ties with his ancestral home.

The year was 1994. The house where Bell lives with his wife, children and grandchildren didn’t yet exist. Neither did his street, filled with multigenerational Choctaw families, nor the community center around the bend. 

It all sits now on 88 acres of the only autonomous land in Tennessee, where Bell’s family and other Choctaw sharecroppers formed a community that’s since become sovereign, operating their own public safety, health and other services while keeping their cultural traditions alive.

“For those long years of struggle that we had here, we were all able to work together for one goal and purpose… to see the accomplishment of this,” Bell said.

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